Ladakh – Getting Back to Leh
Leaving Camp, Lamayaru, and the World’s Scariest Drive
After a rousing party, complete with rum punch (which must be the official drink of trek workers), morning came earlier than I had hoped. We posed for final pictures and hopped into a Toyota Qualis. In hindsight, the fact it was a Qualis should have been the first sign. The Qualis was the unofficial mode of transport in Delhi for call center workers and technical analysts. In 2004. The driver, it seemed, valued life less than the rest of us. On a number of occasions, I was certain that the dated Qualis would be the last vehicle I ever hopped in. With the driver’s lack of regard for human life, the steep drop-offs (made even steeper by the crumbling highway), and the dangerously slow trucks blocking impeding progress on the highway, and we were glad to make it to Lamayuru and its monastery by mid-morning. If nothing else, it provided a spiritual place to prepare ourselves for the rest of the ride.
After the sightseeing stop in Lamayuru (which, admittedly was pretty cool though not as cool as the smaller monastery) we made our way toward Khalatse for lunch. Just before town, we were required to stop at a roadside checkpoint. Based on how remote we had been for the past ten days, it was tough to remember that Ladakh is technically a part of Kashmir and that foreigners need to have the appropriate papers. As usual, Sanjeev took care of the details and we proceeded into town, where we stopped at a local restaurant but ate food prepared at camp that morning. Honestly, it was a fairly non-descript experience, until we found the outhouse from hell across the street. As a worldly traveler that has had to get down to business (i.e., chalupa) in pit toilets across Asia, including a rather scary one in a Thai market, I can say with complete confidence that this chalupahouse was the worst place ever.
It was tough to determine what was more scarring, the outhouse or the drive, but let’s just say everyone was happy to return to the Namgyal Hotel Palace in Leh.